Military dictatorship and online activism in Myanmar

ATHENS, Georgia — Myanmar’s military dictatorship has plunged the country into a state of near collapse. Although international and domestic forces dispute its legitimacy, the junta has remained in power since its coup in February 2021. Following the coup, the military junta imprisoned former President Aung San Suu Kyi and suppressed popular movements demanding democracy, killing and displacing hundreds of people. thousands of people. When people turned to the internet for help, the junta shut down internet access across the country, preventing citizens from contacting each other or raising awareness online. Moreover, while the National Unity Government (NUG), made up of the elected politicians exiled after the military coup, advocates a return to democracy, military clashes, protests and online activism in Myanmar are not show no signs of stopping.

Continuing human rights violations in Myanmar

Unsurprisingly, the actions of the military dictatorship have led to a deterioration of the economy while leaving millions of people struggling with food insecurity. Although Myanmar has succeeded in reducing poverty in previous years, the junta has hampered the economy and the World Bank has reported that a variety of factors caused by a combination of political instability and the COVID-19 pandemic 19 “would significantly reduce human capital, skills and productivity. longer term capacity.

Myanmar’s attractiveness to foreign markets has also dropped. As import costs rise and private investment declines, the people of Myanmar struggle with fewer opportunities and fewer assets.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, an anonymous university student from Myanmar said that if the military remained in power, “the country would be overturned for decades” in terms of living standards.

Even now, the junta, in its desperation for power, has tightened its grip on civilian life, even going so far as to “delegate money from other sources to military arsenal and personnel” and attacking civilians. to “bait resistance”. Arrested resistance members face brutal torture methods. The former citizen said that “Some methods of torture disclosed in the videos I have seen include beheading, whipping, beating and injecting acid into the face.”

The actions of the junta have disastrous humanitarian consequences. Military crackdowns targeting civilians and aid workers have cut off the flow of needed resources. While that hasn’t stopped aid workers from reaching more than 1.67 million people with needed aid in 2021, the UN said around 3 million people still needed help as of November. 2021 and that the junta was still a major obstacle to increased assistance. Other sources of poverty, such as long-term displacement and mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities, also remain unaddressed, although these issues affect hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Online activism and its challenges

People in Myanmar have taken to social media to voice their demands and concerns. Nonprofits, social media activists and outreach programs have raised awareness on platforms like Instagram and Twitter to galvanize support and aid for resistance groups.

However, the junta blocks internet access for ordinary citizens, creating power outages across the country. In this form of digital autocracy, the interviewee explains, the junta tries to silence online activism in Myanmar and people only have access to “a total of [six]hours [of electricity]in the countryside: [three hours]the afternoon and [three hours]at night.” In addition to this, the junta banned the use of major social media platforms as well as the use of VPNs.

This level of hostility discourages democratic political mobilization and fears of activists spread among the general population. The interviewee explained that “the military now has checkpoints in cities and counties to check if your respective phones have a VPN. If found, you are either fined or imprisoned. If you are imprisoned, you will be tortured.

Moreover, average citizens living elsewhere paid less attention to Myanmar. The former Burmese resident spoke to The Borgen Project about his concerns that people have ‘moved away’ from online activism. However, while people living outside Myanmar”[move]resume their lives”, those who live in the country do not have this option.

Effects of online activism in Myanmar

Myanmar is in a state of civil war that extends from the blood-soaked city streets to the digital sphere. The Internet is a powerful tool of resistance and solidarity and the NUG and its allies are more than aware of this. Through the official NUG Facebook account, the NUG posts regularly, spreading messages of hope, resilience and open challenge across the platform.

In the country, social media helps anti-junta individuals persuade others to join their cause and organize pro-democracy protests. For example, online activists working for an organization called People’s Goal allegedly pushed hundreds of former junta soldiers to defect.

Additionally, non-governmental organizations similar to Mutual Aid Myanmar are offering ways to help support the pro-democracy movement by providing financial assistance as many people struggle without access to food, shelter or health care. adequate. As of March 31, 2022, Mutual Aid Myanmar has raised and distributed $705,000 to support citizens including students, healthcare workers and government officials.

Channeling public outrage into online activism in Myanmar and abroad can mobilize politicians and the public. Myanmar has a long history of grassroots resistance that circumvents inhumane and militaristic scare tactics, but the nation still needs support from outside actors.

Future action

As the NUG stated, “the military remains steadfast in its goal to kill or enslave every human being in Myanmar.” As the humanitarian cost of civil war mounts, the population should not have to bear this fight alone. Instead, international organizations, non-profit organizations and foreign states must work to return political power to the citizens of Myanmar.

When discussing ways people could help Myanmar, the anonymous interviewee echoed those sentiments, emphasizing the importance of “condemning the coup with more sanctions that target the military and helping the resistance.” “.

The United States and its allies have already adopted major sanctions against Myanmar. On March 25, 2022, the United States imposed “sanctions on five Burmese individuals and entities” to condemn the junta’s atrocious crimes against humanity.

Major political challenges stand in the way of eliminating the junta from power. However, amid growing political instability and economic uncertainty, every victory counts, from major state sanctions to online activism in Myanmar.

Since taking power, the junta has deprived countless people in Myanmar of their lives, well-being and dignity. It is more important than ever to speak out because Myanmar deserves to be a free country again. People can stand up for the nation’s freedom through big international statements or helpful donations or even long Facebook posts, which are small but necessary steps towards democracy.

-Lauren Sung
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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